Time for another adventure — this time Parris Island
When I was in high school, I was offered the chance to apply for one of the military academies. One day, the guidance counselor called me to her office and asked if I was interested. I asked her what it involved, and what to expect. Of course, I wanted to do it. So a nearly year-long process ensued, ending with my acceptance into the United States Military Academy at West Point. But several things still needed to occur.
I had to prove that I was up to some physical challenges, and I had to undergo extensive medical testing at Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg. All of this would take a week, and if everything turned out well, I was set for a future in the military. To make a long story short, on the third day of that week, I washed out of the program with a heart murmur. My dream of entering the military was over.
Starting today, I will have the rare opportunity to go on a totally unexpected adventure. Here is how it developed. The United States Marine Corps occasionally offers educators, administration and teachers, the chance to go visit and participate to some extent in boot camp. Rowan County School System educators got the chance to apply for the program recently and one of them was accepted. Richard Taylor, West Rowan High School shop teacher and Cleveland Town Board Member, found out about three weeks ago that he would visit Parris Island, South Carolina for a hands-on introduction to boot camp. It is called the Marine Corps Educators Program and is specifically intended to show those educators what boot camp is like and let them assist in finding the right type of student that might make a good Marine.
Richard told me that he was going, and being that I am always interested in a good story, I asked him if I could do one on his experiences after his return. Richard was all for it, so I asked Salisbury Post editor Elizabeth Cook and news editor Scott Jenkins if I could do that story. Elizabeth knows that I am usually up for an adventure, and threw out the golden carrot. She said, “The Marine Corps offered us one spot on the trip. How would you like to go?” Same answer, of course, I wanted to do it!
With the contact information in hand, I called Sgt. Dwight Henderson in Raleigh who is responsible for acceptance and coordination of the attendees. He told me, “There are several things we will need from you before we can approve you coming along.” Those things included several of my recent feature stories, a current biography, an information sheet about me and what stories I wanted to pursue while on the base. That final approval came on Wednesday, and so I will join Richard and a busload of educators who had been previously accepted for the program at Parris Island. A local recruiter will drive both of us to Raleigh to meet the rest of the group before we will head for the base early on Tuesday.
I can’t say why exactly that I am looking forward to this trip so much, but I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it. Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot gets most of the male recruits from east of the Mississippi and all of the female recruits from across the United States. About 20,000 recruits graduate there annually. There is an air base for military maneuvers on site as well. Parris Island has been in existence since 1915.
Parris Island is located about five miles from Beaufort, pronounced “Bew-fort” by the locals and “Bow-fort” by outsiders. Founded by the English in 1711, Beaufort was initially a backwater town known for fishing, oysters and clams. At this point, Beaufort has more antebellum homes than Charleston and Savannah combined. I hope to at least get a little free time to explore the town.
One of my friends mentioned to me the other day that there is more history in Beaufort and at Parris Island than I can imagine. You might remember that I am a huge history nut, so I can’t wait to find out more about both the town and base. There is a fantastic Marine Corps Museum on the base as well. Did you know that part of my favorite movie, Forrest Gump, was filmed on Parris Island?
At present, we plan to leave Rowan County about 2:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon and head for Raleigh where we will meet the rest of the group that evening. We will arrive at Beaufort and the base on Tuesday, then start our version of boot camp on Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. and go hard until something after 7 p.m. that night. We will learn more about our schedule each day after we arrive, but already we know that we’ll get quality time with drill instructors, pugil sticks, obstacle courses, M-16 training, and rappelling. I am excited about an up-close view of an F/A-18 fighter jet. There is a lot more, and it looks like nearly every minute is scheduled. We will see an actual recruit graduation, after 13 weeks in boot camp. This just happens to be the longest of any service. I hope to get some time to hear the stories of the actual recruits, maybe some from this area. I simply can’t wait!
Throughout the week, I will be reporting daily, just as I did on my bicycle ride across the country. You will get an update and pictures each day about what is happening with Richard and me. It should be fun!
David Freeze is a regular contributor to the Salisbury Post.